The Science Of Sports Fandom

Win or lose, watching sports changes you. What research says about being a fan.
Chuck France / KU University Relations)

Whether you’re lamenting the devastation of your March Madness bracket or gearing up for the excitement of a baseball-filled spring, sports fandom can be an emotional roller coaster.

There’s more to being a fan than just buying tickets and turning on the TV: Scientists study sports fans to look into everything from group dynamics and social bonds to brand marketing and brain function.

“The game itself doesn’t mean anything, but the attachment to it certainly does,” journalist Eric Simons writes in his new book The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession. “Watching sports is insanely complicated–and very personal–but underneath the layers of personality and culture lie the biological and psychological roots of a universal obsession.”

Here are some of the things being an intense sports fan does to you:

It gives you higher self-esteem.
Your team’s failure is a threat to your self-image.
It makes your neurons mirror those of the players in the game.
It increases your testosterone levels.
Unless you’re losing.
Or unless you’re a woman.
No, it happens to women too.
It makes you an aggressive, chanting mess.
It can help communities rebuild after disaster.
It improves your language skills.
It gives you unhealthier eating and drinking habits.
But exercise programs at stadiums can improve men’s health.
It gives you schadenfreude.
It makes you enjoy despair, kind of.
It messes up your sense of distance.
It might make you a riskier driver.
It can increase suicide rates when a team relocates.
It might kill you.
Even if your team wins.